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Originally published Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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‘The Matchmaker’: Actor is perfect for Israeli drama

A movie review of “The Matchmaker,” Avi Nesher’s unique Israeli drama, set in Haifa in 1968, that deals with the relationship between a teenage boy and a Holocaust survivor/matchmaker.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

‘The Matchmaker,’ with Adir Miller, Tuval Shafir, Neta Porat. Written and directed by Avi Nesher, based on a novel by Amir Gutfreund. 112 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains rough language, discreet sex scene). In Hebrew, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

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The shadow of the Holocaust hangs over this unique Israeli coming-of-age film, which deals with a special kind of survivor’s guilt.

The title may suggest a remake of Thornton Wilder’s play about a Yonkers matchmaker, but writer-director Avi Nesher’s script is based on a novel, “When Heroes Fly,” by Amir Gutfreund. Nesher’s adaptation deals with the relationship between a teenage boy and a Holocaust survivor, who uses his matchmaking skills to survive the slums of Haifa in the late 1960s.

Arik Burstein (Tuval Shafir) is about to turn 16. Yankele Bride (Adir Miller) is considerably older and wiser, and his status as a survivor of the camps creates a sense of mystery around him.

How did he (and other Haifa residents) escape being killed by the Nazis? Why does he insist that Arik, who longs to become a writer, tell only those stories that have happy endings?

The script juggles several subplots, including a summer love story for Arik and a budding feminist, Tamara (Neta Porat), and the comings and goings at a movie theater that’s managed by a family of seven Romanian dwarves.

Borrowing her rebellious slogans from the hippies, Tamara demonstrates her dedication to American rock music (Jefferson Airplane is heard, loudly, in the background). The clash of cultures can be deafening, and it sometimes seems trivial when compared to the back story of the camps.

It’s Miller’s soulful performance that provides the necessary sense of perspective. When he’s on-screen, putting up with Arik’s shenanigans or making romantic arrangements or dealing with Holocaust memories, “The Matchmaker” delivers.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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